The mocking hits close to home

I’m normally an appreciative consumer of snarky commentary on the development industry. Wronging Rights is consistently funny in this regard, Aid Watch has its moments too, and HRI is pretty good.

But sometimes you recognize yourself in the mocking. That’s what happened to me with HRI’s recent post: How to stay on top by speaking the right language in the 21st century: Multilateral Aid & Budget Support. Hand Relief International, in case you didn’t figure it out, is a fake organization. The most recent post highlights the uses and abuses of rhetorical trends in development. It’s worth a read.

This post hit close to home because I’ve always been interested in how ideas evolve over time. As a result, I tend to see new concepts (and their accompanying rhetoric and practices) as vital to improving the development industry. I’m also in grad school right now. Our professors like to be on top of the latest in the field, if only to critique it. We’re surrounded by the newest jargon and we use it all the time. We do a lot of talking and reading, so we’re pretty comfortable with the jargon too. There’s also a tendency to think of ourselves as part of a “new generation” that will do things differently from the old farts in charge now.

HRI’s post highlights the fact that new ideas are often just repackaged versions of the old ideas. Even if they’re more than that, the incentives that resulted in the old practices don’t go away with the introduction of a new idea. So the new idea just gets folded into the existing structures. The old farts keep doing basically the same things they were doing before, but with new rhetoric. Actually changing practices takes more the crafting of a new idea. Unless we recognize that, us young farts are likely to make the same mistakes as the old farts.